Todd Marella from Portland, OR, is back with a post!
Today, as I was reminded by a dear friend, marks one year since my blog contribution titled 'An American Tune.' It still brought tears to my eyes, even one year removed. Time flies.
Yesterday (Sunday) I awoke to an alarm at 5:45. A ridiculous time to hear one’s own alarm chiming from their phone on a Sunday, right? I needed the time to prepare for what was to be my first racing in eight months; first time indoor in over a year, and first time in Elma, Washington… EVER! Armed with what were three perfectly good reasons to hit the alarm's 'off' and roll over for another couple of hours sleep, alas, I was up and showering. You see, although a lousy racer by most accounts, I love racing flat track. I wasn’t going to miss it. I told myself 'I should go.'
The extra time I allotted proved no match for my level of disorganization, and although I was up before the rooster, I managed to get on the road later than originally planned, searching frantically for gearing, gas can, loading ramp, air pump… you know, all the stuff real racers locate and load the night before. Although not my first rodeo, each time seems like it is.
It's a two-plus hour drive to Gray's Harbor Fairgrounds in Elma, WA from Portland. Gates are at 8:00, and practice starts at 10:00, races at 12:00. I was on the road at 8:10. The math doesn’t give me much time for practice if everything goes perfectly. Nothing goes ever perfectly. Ever.
I texted my friend Chris while I drove his borrowed van, for help synching my phone to his fancy sound system, then it clicks and I get my connection, and with it, music. A random mix of Clash tunes yielded a fresh order of the 'only band that ever really mattered' for my journey to Elma. 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go' wasn’t the first song in the mix, but it was the second.
If you've heard the tune, you've probably sung along, at least during the chorus. It's a pop song, a catchy, bombastic plea by Mick Jones begging his lover 'Darling, you’ve got to let me know,’ in hopes of saving him from looking like a fool. It’s not how I heard it, speeding northward on I5 through Kelso. The song had a more global resonance in my Sunday morning ears. I’ve been quietly asking myself this question for some time, with Portland as the 'Darling' in the story, and me, already the fool.
The road to Elma, which is also the road to Aberdeen (childhood home of Kurt Cobain) can be a gloomy one. It was on Sunday as the rain came steadily down out of cold, grey skies. I made it to Gray’s Harbor Fairgrounds in two hours: two hours of gloomy, wet highway, two hours of anticipation, and two hours of Clash music. I arrived with less than 50 min of practice remaining. I’d yet to park, unload, put air in the tires, fuel in the tank, an air filter on the carb, or gear on my back…
A hundred bucks and three sign-up sheets later (one per class entered), I was idling Chris’ van past all the riders who got there on time. Quickly, I spied Stace’s (@stacerichmond) pit, and got settled next to him. I managed to get the aforementioned pre-race check list completed and make it to staging with 15 min of scheduled practice time left. It was eerily quiet and the absence of other riders evident. I was informed that ‘practice was over.’ Cue the scene in National Lampoon's Vacation, where an enthusiastic security guard (played by John Candy, RIP) at Wallyworld informs the Griswalds 'Sorry folks, park's closed.' I wasn’t happy. I’d managed to 'late' myself right out of any practice time on a tiny indoor track I’d never seen before. Sure. Great.
I ended up in only two classes: 50+ and Vintage open, the 250 Vintage class was scratched due to lack of entries. My first heat was the age class and I took my starting spot in the centre of the first row. Stace flanked me to my immediate left on his built DTX CRF450. To my right, a guy on a beautiful built Honda XL350 in a Champion frame. After a pretty good start, and about 1.5 seconds into my first time riding the track, I went into turn one feeling pretty good about things… Then I didn't. With no indication or warning, as if someone lathered Crisco [a brand of shortening, vegetable derived fat used in cooking. GI] all over the left sides of my tyres. I smacked the racing surface, with the knuckles of my left hand, and left side of my helmet leading the way. Sure. OK. I crawled out from under it, got the bike to the infield, kicked it to life, and found my way to the back row for restart. The next five laps weren’t pretty (kissing the wall coming out of turn two), but I learned some things and felt confident about my next race, which was race number 15. My first race was number 11. I looped right back into line after leaving the track. Inching my way forward as races progressed, I managed to wipe the rainwater from the pits off the front tyre with my now torn and bloodied left glove (sorry Chris, I owe you a pair of gloves).
After another great start, and successfully getting through the first lap, I was in second and feeling pretty good. One wide turn in one and two, and I was now the third placed rider. The races are short, just five laps, and they go quickly as the track is tiny. I was pleased with the laps and how the bike felt, particularly with no braking capability to speak of. I navigated the monsoon like conditions back to the pits, and headed into the grandstands with my sandwich and chips to watch what seemed like 167 races of karts, three wheelers, and quads.
Returning to the van for a little quiet time before mains started, it hit me: 'You don't HAVE to stay for the mains.' Thinking that if I left then instead of waiting for the mains, I wouldn't be driving home in the tropical storm that was blanketing the region in the dark, I’d certainly not be going to the ER (always a crapshoot with me on the bike), and I hadn’t wrecked my bike! I’d already retrieved the $30.00 for the class that didn’t have enough riders, making it a $70 day at the track (or, $7/lap)… I was in the chips!
Stace was surprised, if not a little envious, upon seeing me in my street clothes and readying the bike for load up upon his return to the pits. He ended up fairing very well in all classes he raced, as usual. We hugged and I thanked him for all of his help during my time there. We also talked about the possibility of me tagging along down to Lodi later in April. Fingers crossed.
The two-plus hour drive back to Portland was as rainy and nerve wracking as I can handle. It would have been much worse in the dark. I heard 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go' again at about Longview. I was smiling and singing Joe's parts echoing Mick’s lyrics in Spanish '?me debo ir o quedarme?' I made the right decision on this occasion.
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